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Tarantino returns in what he claims is his 8th feature film. Considering he has directorial credits for 13, the man can’t count. However, he sure can make a movie.
The Hateful Eight sees a host of Tarantino cast familiars return; Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Walter Goggins form four of the eponymous eight, all trapped in Minnie’s Haberdashery lodge from a blizzard; the criminal Daisy Domergue is being escorted to nearby town of Red Rock to hang by a stalwart Kurt Russell as John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth. But (gasp) there’s a catch! Someone in the lodge is working to set her free. Rest assured, these eight are all quite hateful.
What transpires is one of Tarantino’s longest films, clocking in at over three hours, and though the man is known for his slow burning, dialogue heavy features, The Hateful Eight is markedly slower, the entire first half dedicated pretty much to establishing each of the characters. Though you deal with what you’re given and the characters and tensions are established brilliantly. Each one has a fascinating story, a distinct personality (Tim Roth is a show stealer as the over the top, Queen’s English ‘Hangman’) and each arouse significant suspicion of their true identities and intentions that builds the first half of the movie as a slow game of Cluedo, but one where not enough people are playing so there’s no sufficient evidence to ever be able to accuse anyone.
Then follows the intermission courtesy of Vue Cinemas, because when you go to the cinema, who doesn’t want a fifteen-minute break to completely destroy your immersion of the film? Actually, it worked pretty well. Not because people generally don’t like to sit down in one place for three hours, but rather Tarantino’s decision to tell the story in chapters invited a natural break, as well as his (dreaded) cameo in each of his flicks coming as a catch up narration after the intermission.
The second half of it, by contrast, moves at extreme pace, returning to the lightning fast dialogue and ludicrous situations you’d expect from a Tarantino film. The plot twist reveal is handled stylishly. Though it isn’t the smartest thing he could have done with the characters, the execution makes it brilliantly entertaining and packages the film nicely in a tight little three-hour bow. Expect gore, hilarious black humour and what transpires to be, in many ways, a surprisingly touching commentary about unity in post civil war America. In a slightly unsettling twist to most movies, Tarantino opts really for no protagonists, but rather eight, nasty antagonists; no character is exempt from some awful crime – it’s a sadistic joy to behold.
The presentation is a marvel in its own right. Tarantino just loves us all to know he knows more about movies than everyone else; recreating old Western style credit scenes, shooting in 70mm (though the effects don’t fully transpire onto a normal screen, shots were impressively detailed and wide) and best of all, recruiting composer Ennio Morricone, expert composer of Western classics like The Good the Bad and the Ugly to give the film a fantastically authentic feel. This authenticity, of course, is given Tarantino’s own stamp with his injection of contemporary songs (The White Stripes make a cracking feature) and the all too familiar performance of Samual L Jackson. It’s a glorious, whacky amalgamation of the old and the new.
Yet for all its strengths, there is something lacking in The Hateful Eight that is hard to describe. Some of the characters, though all are strong enough, take the back seat for the most part despite Tarantino’s best efforts to give them all a moment in the spotlight. They often fade in comparison to Pulp Fiction’s Jules or both of Christophe Waltz’s characters in his two performances with Tarantino. It turns out that not even three hours of film is enough to fully flesh out eight lead characters (though to Tarantino’s defense, Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy could scarcely manage two in nine hours.)
I imagine that The Hateful Eight would have been an incredible experience when presented as Tarantino desired; in 70mm and in a roadshow format with intermissions and overtures. Unfortunately, we won’t get to see that version of it here, so as it stands it’s not an incredible experience, but rather a great one. It’s quite an achievement that after a three hour slog, the film invites you to watch it again with a whole new perspective on the story, an invitation I’m quite confident you’ll accept.